Games at Twilight

by Anita Desai

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What is the theme of expectation vs. reality in "Games at Twilight"?

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The theme of expectation vs. reality is illustrated through the character of Ravi during the game of hide-and-seek.  

Ravi isn't a leader among the other children. It could be because he is younger or smaller than most of them, but readers are presented with the idea that he is a bit of an outsider. When we first meet Ravi, he is attempting to burrow and hide from Raghu because he fears Raghu. Readers also get to read my favorite line from this story.

Ravi heard the whistling and picked his nose in a panic, trying to find comfort by burrowing the finger deep — deep into that soft tunnel. . .  Ravi looked about him desperately, swallowing a small ball of snot in his fear.

The image of a kid picking his nose and swallowing snot balls doesn't exactly make readers think that Ravi is one of the "cool" kids.

Ravi eventually gets himself a great hiding spot, and he begins to envision what it will be like to win the game of hide-and-seek. He imagines the other children will treat him like a conquering hero. They will praise his hiding prowess and honor with compliments galore.

What fun if they were all found and caught — he alone left unconquered! He had never known that sensation. . . To defeat Raghu — that hirsute, hoarse-voiced football champion — and to be the winner in a circle of older, bigger, luckier children — that would be thrilling beyond imagination. He hugged his knees together and smiled to himself almost shyly at the thought of so much victory, such laurels.

Ravi expects that his victory will finally earn him respect and admiration from the other children. Unfortunately, that is not the reality of what happens. Ravi claims his victory many hours later, and the other children merely brush his claim aside.

"Don’t be a fool,'' Raghu said roughly, pushing him aside, and even Mira said, "Stop howling, Ravi. If you want to play, you can stand at the end of the line,'' and she put him there very firmly.

What's even worse about the harsh reality that Ravi is learning is that the parents also continue to treat Ravi as before.

Their mother rose from her basket chair and came toward him, worried, annoyed, saying, "Stop it, stop it, Ravi. Don’t be a baby. Have you hurt yourself?''

The story ends with a few lines that really drive home the theme of expectation vs. reality. It's a sad theme, too, because Ravi envisions greatness for himself, but the reality that is reinforced is the reality of his continued insignificance.

He lay down full length on the damp grass, crushing his face into it, no longer crying, silenced by a terrible sense of his insignificance.

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